Comics on Film: Is Marvel's 'Civil War' Too Big for the Big Screen?

Comics on Film: Is Marvel's 'Civil War' Too Big for the Big Screen?

Oct 15, 2014

As you've no doubt already heard, Marvel Studios is going to be bringing Iron Man into the fold for the third Captain America film to allegedly set up an adaptation of Civil War, the blockbuster 2006 Marvel Comics crossover event which will likely see every Marvel Studios hero forced to pick a side: the pro-registration forces of Iron Man or the antiregistration rebels led by Captain America.

In many ways, that sounds like a fan's dream come true. Now that the news has settled in my brain a bit, though, a thought creeps into my head: Is this really the right time for this?


The Pros and Cons of Adapting Civil War

If you haven't read John Gholson's latest Marvel Studios Countdown (which you really should), he goes over a lot of the vital details: what Civil War is, who the major players are, and what some of the major narrative problems would seem to be in adapting a story like this. As John very wisely points out, none of the major heroes in the Marvel cinematic universe has to maintain a secret identity, save for perhaps Daredevil once his Netflix series kicks into gear next year. The whole element of Civil War's plot as told in the story by writer Mark Millar and artist Steve McNiven arose over a disagreement about the registration of superhero secret identities. It'd be pretty hard to adapt that story with any semblance of faith to the original material if there are only a few heroes whose identities are secret, especially if none of the major players have them.

Iron ManThe ending of the original Iron Man kind of messed this up. When Tony Stark decided to say the words "I am Iron Man," Marvel Studios inadvertantly shot itself in the foot. Had Tony maintained a secret ID through his three solo films and The Avengers, you could've had one hell of a moment when he reveals himself to the world to show solidarity with some kind of Superhuman Registration Act.

So, the smart money is on some other kind of issue splitting the heroes of the MCU down the middle. Captain America: The Winter Soldier helped to illustrate that a world of superheroes and extremely powerful beings isn't something that the powers-that-be (either in S.H.I.E.L.D./Hydra or the government) are particularly familiar with. It's possible that something that could set off a "civil war" of sorts is a government crackdown on masked heroes in the first place.

This could definitely be an interesting direction to go, but as a comic book fan I would hope for one primary thing: one of the elements that made Civil War as a series so interesting was that it didn't blatantly have a "good guy vs. bad guy" plot. Readers had to make up their own minds about whom they supported, and I would hope a movie wouldn't dumb that element down into something that is more derivative of what we've seen before than it is innovative.


Why This Story Needs Spider-Man

Another element that John alluded to in his countdown piece was that due to the rights for certain characters belonging to other studios, some of Civil War's most memorable elements can't be adapted in an upcoming film. One of these that really resonated centered on the characters of the Fantastic Four. After an explosion in Stamford, Connecticut that sets the events of the series in motion, the public temporarily turns against superhumans.

Spider-Man reveals his identity on the final page of Civil War #2 (2006). Art by Steve McNiven.

As a result, Johnny Storm, the Fantastic Four's Human Torch, was attacked outside a nightclub and hospitalized. Mr. Fantastic was an ardent supporter of Stark's even after this happened, but Invisible Woman and her brother were so put off by what was going on that they joined Captain America's resistance, splitting the normally rock-solid "first family" of Marvel Comics right down the middle, just like the rest of the heroes. 

By far, though, one of the biggest splashes that Civil War made when its second issue hit stands in the summer of 2006 was when Iron Man convinced one of his employees at the time, Peter Parker, to reveal his secret identity of Spider-Man to the world in order to prove the "correctness" of the Registration Act.

Spider-Man would ultimately become a key player in the entire overarching narrative of the main Civil War story and many of its tie-ins, since his initial decision to side with Iron Man yields results that the very conscientious Peter ultimately cannot condone, leading to a major defection to Captain America's forces even after the damage to his own life was done.

While rumors continue to circulate about some accord being reached between Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios over the inclusion of Spider-Man in a future Avengers film, to our knowledge they are just rumors. Until then, we should assume that things will stay as they have been going forward, which would mean that Marvel Studios would have to rely on a character without the iconography of the Webhead to represent that element of Civil War's plot.


Will Civil War Be a Game Changer for Superhero Movies?

One thing that fan and analyst alike cannot ignore is the storytelling fuel that a Civil War-like story would provide for the Marvel cinematic universe going forward. In the comics, almost every major title in publication felt the effects of Civil War, from the X-Men and the Avengers down through Black Panther and Alpha Flight. Similarly, if exploited correctly, Marvel could lay sufficient groundwork from this one story to bleed into other movies like Dr. Strange, through its TV projects like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.Iron Fist and Daredevil.

It's also impossible to deny the undeniably attractive elements of a massive movie crossover pitting hero against hero and villain against villain, since the potential for both visual and storytelling grandeur is dizzyingly high. Is now the right time for Civil War? Well, we don't ultimately make that decision. Still, though, that doesn't mean that we can't hope for the best, and enjoy one hell of a roller-coaster ride that surely awaits us.

Chris Clow is a geek. He is a gamer, a comic book expert and former retailer, the Junior Editor at, and a freelance contributor to The Huffington Post and You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film right here at Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.




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